VISION for EDUCATION — Lamar State College Orange honors lasting legacy of Dr. Joe Ben Welch

Published 12:20 am Friday, April 5, 2024

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

Wendi Sands describes her father as a dreamer.

He was someone who saw a bowling alley in Downtown Orange and had visions of a grand plan.

“When he acquired the Brown Center, the dream just grew exponentially. It went from there,” Sands recalls. “He was always in Austin, lobbying the state legislature, trying to get money and fundraising. He was on every board there was in the whole town and beyond. He was constantly growing the vision.”

Sands’ father is the legendary Dr. Joe Ben Welch, recognized as the first president of Lamar State College Orange.

On Thursday, college leaders honored the lifetime educator by officially dedicating the Lamar State College Orange Joe Ben Welch Student Center.

Welch died Sept. 12, 2023, at the age of 83.

Sands said her father would have been humbled by the honor, likely fighting back tears if he saw it in person.

Robin Peveto, another Welch daughter, noted her father was the first one in his family to graduate high school.

He would eventually earn degrees at increasing levels from Louisiana Tech University, Lamar University and McNeese State University.

In addition to his work in Orange, Welch was also instrumental in launching and leading River Parishes Community College in Zachary, Louisiana.

Despite his major impact across Gulf Coast higher education, daughter Roxie Bolton said her father’s passion remained in helping people.

“My friends’ parents, he would encourage them to go back to school to finish their certifications, to get their degree,” she said. “I remember my friends’ parents calling home to talk to my dad to say, ‘I took that class and made a B.’ He would say, ‘congratulations, awesome job. You did it. I am so proud of you.’ It was really about upward mobility, changing people’s lives and giving them opportunity through education.”

Future is now

Lamar State College Orange President Dr. Tom Johnson called Thursday’s honor of Welch a huge day for the school.

“I had the good fortune of meeting Dr. Welch back in 2019 when Dr. (J. Michael) Shahan and I were able to have him here for the 50th anniversary of our college,” Johnson said.

The college president noted that a mural on the student center depicted the old Tilley Elementary, which originally housed the school and burned down in 1971.

Johnson credited Welch for transitioning the college during those difficult times to the growing institution it has become.

“We chose today (to honor Welch) because we didn’t just want you to see a building; we wanted you to see our students, facility, staff and our community who all love what has become,” Johnson said.

“He was an amazing individual. He did so much for our community. He found the money, convinced the folks we needed to move it to Downtown Orange and this is where we are, because of everything Dr. Welsh did for so many years.”

Johnson ended his remarks with a message to the many students who witnessed the dedication and were on campus celebrating LSCO’s Spring Day.

“Students, I am so glad you are here to see this. This is here because of an individual’s vision of what can be. I hope you look around and there are things that you think of what can be for that next generation,” he said.

“We want Orange, Texas to have the most beautiful campus there is, and we’re on track to do it. There is no doubt.”